Grace’s coming out story

I first came out I suppose when I developed a crush on this curly haired girl in the musical theatre program at my university. She had this gravelly voice, smoked a lot of pot and shopped at vintage shops. . I told a fellow cast mate about my crush watching her sing one day. The cast mate shrugged, “Cool.”

That was the first time I had ever admitted having a crush on a girl, the first time I voiced it. It was not, however, my first crush on a girl.

I told my peers first. They were theatre people and mostly encouraging and accepting  (Remember this was almost 15 years ago and I was in Ohio) only some of my female cast mates were weird, “What do girls even do?” they asked, truly perplexed.  I avoided making eyes in the dressing room, I didn’t want anyone to think I was checking them out.

When I came to New York between my junior and senior years of college to do a NYTIMES reviewed play downtown at the historic LaMama theatre I snuck out of the dorm they housed us one evening, jumped in a cab and had the driver bring me to my first lesbian bar. I was desperate for an experience beyond a crush.  I sauntered in wearing a high ponytail and miniskirt. I was 20 and using a fake id.

A woman named Lorie immediately asked if she could buy me a drink. She was 37 and sort of resembled the curly haired musical theatre girl. I was immediately smitten but  Lorie was in a transitional period and not over an ex – this straight girl, Diane,  who lived in Canada. She told me the whole story many times. I would later re-meet Lorie 6 years later and she would be a little more emotionally available — but only slightly. She would still not be over the same ex.  Then it finally happened for me, boom!

A few weeks later I went to the famous Henrietta Hudson where I met another older smart but emotionally centered woman who worked in marketing for a non-profit and had a studio in Chelsea. We talked about books, music and culture. We went out to eat at new restaurants downtown and she introduced me to everything bagels, American Apparel back when that was still a thing and Napoleon Dynamite. She made me feel really comfortable about sex and was the first woman I ever went down on which is one of those things I’m really grateful for because she was totally normal and centered and it was a good go-to to reflect back on when the going got rough which it did, later.

I returned to Ohio. At this point, everyone knew I was gay except my parents. I had one more year of school to complete. I started dating this sweet nerdy girl who was studying to be a librarian. We had a tumultuous relationship I wasn’t equipped to handle over the course of which she threatened to kill herself if I left her — and slapped me — my first and not last encounter with violence within the framework of a relationship.

Eventually I did end things and that was when my mother found my diary. She said, “I read that thing…” and she demanded to know what we DID, in detail. I was horrified. I told her no.

She threatened to call the pastor and I called the girl in marketing in New York who told me to leave. I did. My mother told me I was a pervert and sinning against God and that I would never be allowed to see my brother again. At the time he was 7. I While we talk, he now feels the same way as she – that my life and my choices, to love who I am drawn to love — is a sin against God. And so I have had to make peace with it — which is a process that took years.

I briefly had my family back on my side when I fell in love with a man when I was 23. All of a sudden this identity that I had worked hard to claim fell away and in some ways things were easier as I was in what was perceived as the heteronormative narrative.

In the years I was with him I had my mother back – but it never felt honest, it never felt right. And as much as I loved him, I was never fully happy. There was this piece missing from my life. He encouraged me to have experiences outside the marriage which didn’t work for a variety of reasons including the fact that I’m just a monogamous person. The other caveat was that I developed feelings and feelings for women were definitely less okay than just sex. And we fell apart, or I should say blew apart because that ended when he tried to choke me to death. The one he loved the most – his fantasy, his tomboy— he called me his “boygirl.”  I spent years trying to fulfill this persons fantasy instead of just living my truth — as a woman who loves women. That period of my life is not something I regret, yet, still something I am trying to make sense of. I am writing a play about it called “The Book of Revelations.”

And so I left that relationship and threw everything away. I actually threw everything away. All of my furniture, clothing, books, belongings. So that the only thing I had left was myself and my experiences. I came out again. And again.  I had a series of rebounds. I cried a lot. I drank too much. I cried some more. I began again. I began again. I started exercising. I began the process of finding the practices and daily habits that made me happy. And eventually I cried less. And less. And I became more centered.  And one day I woke up and suddenly realized what it meant to be grounded in ones self even if the process wasn’t centered at all.

Someone called me a role model. People started coming out to me. And I realized that it was important to share my experiences — all of them, as honestly as I could, because although everyone’s truth is different — collectively our stories are what bind us together with a community of fellow queers and allies and we need each other to lean on.

Ultimately the most important thing I had to throw away was the perception, other peoples perception ,of who I was or what that meant which is a lot of stress and ultimately something very unhealthy to spend any energy on. People still say things to me like, “But you fell in love with a man once so…” But I just kindly and firmly reply— ‘trust me, I know’ and go on living my authentic life as an out lesbian theatre maker.

I bring my truth to the page, to the stage and in my every day life. I know what it is for things to not be black and white. I know what it is to come out again and again. I know what it is to have more than half your family abandon you. I know what it is to try and be something you are not and feel like it’s suffocating you. I know what it is to be alone. I know what it is to have your heart broken. I know what it is to realize that you have to love yourself first and foremost before you can ever love anyone else in the way that healthy balanced real love necessitates. I know.


Check Out Graces’ Website

grace-connolly.com

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